Final Rule Reverts H-1B “Specialty Occupation” to Previous USCIS Standard

On October 8, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security issued an Interim Final Rule (IFR) titled “Strengthening the H-1B Non-Immigrant Visa Classification Program”. The IFR previously revised and narrowed the regulatory definition of and raised the standards for “specialty occupation” for H-1B nonimmigrant visa applicants.

 

On December 1, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued a judgment that blocked the implementation and enforcement of the IFR. In compliance with the vacatur, USCIS has vacated the IFR and restored the previous definition of and standard for the “specialty occupation” requirement.

 

Under the IFR, H-1B applicants were required to obtain a bachelor’s degree in the exact field related to their position. For example, under the rule, employers seeking software engineers would not be allowed to hire applicants with an information technology degree. Nor would they be allowed to use experience or a combination of experience and education as a bachelor’s degree equivalency. Now that the IFR has been vacated, applicants can satisfy “specialty occupation” by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in a field relevant to their profession, or a work experience equivalency.

 

If you have any questions, please contact your Graham Adair attorney.

USCIS To Suspend Biometrics Requirements for Certain I-539 Applicants

From May 17, 2021, USCIS will suspend the biometrics requirements for the H-4, L-2, E-1, E-2 and E-3 categories of Form I-539 applications. The suspension will be for at least 2 years. USCIS will retain the discretion to require biometrics on a case-by-case basis.

 

The suspension will apply if: 1) the application is pending as of May 17, 2021 and a biometrics appointment notice has not been received; or 2) the application is received by USCIS between May 17, 2021 and the expiration date of the suspension.

 

USCIS has expressed an intention to eliminate the current backlog and to significantly reduce delays in processing times for these applications. The proposal came in a declaration from USCIS Service Center Operation Directorate Associate Director Connie L. Nolan in the pending federal case Edakunni v. Mayorkas.

 

If you have any questions, please contact your Graham Adair attorney.

USCIS Announces Final Filing Fee Adjustments

Effective October 2020, USCIS will implement fee adjustments for certain immigration and naturalization benefit applications. One of the most notable adjustments is that Form I-129 is no longer a uniform rate. Rather, the fee will depend on the type of non-immigrant status. For example, the I-129 fee for an H-1B is changing to $555, while the I-129 fee for an L-1 is now $805.

 

Along with the proposed fee adjustments, USCIS will also be extending the time to adjudicate premium processing petitions from 15 calendar days to 15 business days.

 

Additionally, Adjustment of Status (I-485) applicants seeking an Employment Authorization Document and an Advanced Parole document will be required to pay a separate fee for each application and each renewal. A separate part of the I-485 fee adjustment removes the fee discount for minor children under 14 years; their cases will now require the full I-485 filing fee.

 

The fee changes for certain immigration and naturalization applications are below:

 

Immigration Benefit RequestCurrent FeeFinal FeeChange ($)
I-129 (H-1B)$460$555+$95
I-129 (L-1)$460$805+$345
I-129 (O)$460$705+$245
I-140$700$555-$145
I-539$370$400+$30
I-765 (EAD)$410$550+$140
I-131 (Advance Parole)$575$590+$15
I-485 (Adjustment of Status)$1,140$1,130-$10
N-400 (Naturalization)$640$1,170+$850

 

Please contact your Graham Adair representative with any questions.

USCIS to Lift Premium Processing Suspension in Phases in June 2020

On May 29, 2020, USCIS announced that the temporary suspension on premium processing requests for eligible Form I-140 employment-based immigrant petitions?such as EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3 petitions, and eligible Form I-129 nonimmigrant worker petitions?such as H-1B, O-1, TN, L-1, and E-3 petitions, will be lifted in phases during June 2020.

 

Back on March 20, 2020, USCIS had temporarily suspended new premium processing requests for eligible Form I-140 and Form I-129 petitions. As a result of the suspension, Form I-140 and Form I-129 petitions (normally eligible for premium processing) could only be filed with regular processing from the date of suspension. Regular processing entails a much lengthier processing time of several months, as opposed to the 15-day processing time that premium processing provides.

 

Based on the May 29, 2020 announcement, USCIS will resume accepting premium processing requests (Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service) for eligible petitions in the following phases in June 2020:

 

Phase 1 (June 1, 2020): Resumption of Premium Processing for Eligible Form I-140 Petitions

 

  • USCIS will accept premium processing requests for eligible Form I-140 petitions on/after this date.

 

Phase 2 (June 8, 2020): Resumption of Premium Processing for Certain Pending I-129 Petitions

 

  • USCIS will accept premium processing requests for pending cap-exempt Form I-129 H-1B petitions filed prior to June 8, 2020.

 

  • USCIS will accept premium processing requests for all other eligible, Form I-129 non-H-1B petitions (such as O-1, TN, L-1, E-1, and E-2) filed prior to June 8, 2020.

 

Phase 3 (June 15, 2020): Resumption of Premium Processing for Certain New/Recent Cap-Exempt H-1B Petitions

 

  • USCIS will accept premium processing requests for certain, cap-exempt H-1B petitions not filed prior to June 8, 2020, which includes premium processing requests for cap-exempt H-1B petitions due to cap-exempt employer; beneficiary is cap-exempt due to qualifying cap-exempt institution, entity or organization; or?the beneficiary is cap-exempt under INA section 214(l) based on a Conrad/IGA waiver.

 

Phase 4 (June 22, 2020): Resumption of Premium Processing for Cap-subject H-1B Petitions and All Other Form I-129 Petitions

 

  • USCIS will accept premium processing requests for H-1B cap-subject petitions (includes cap-subject H-1B petitions that were selected in the registration lottery in March 2020).

 

  • USCIS will accept premium processing requests for all other Form I-129 petitions that are eligible for premium processing.

 

For any pending or new Form I-140 or Form I-129 petition, the above filing date restrictions must be considered for any premium processing request as USCIS will reject a premium processing request that is not timely made within the above constraints.

 

Graham Adair will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates here as they become available. If you have any questions, please contact your Graham Adair representative.

USCIS to Resume Services at Local Offices on June 4th

USCIS plans to reopen certain offices and resume non-emergency services on Thursday, June 4, 2020. The agency temporarily closed offices and suspended in-person services on March 18th to slow the spread of COVID-19.

 

New safety measures will be implemented once offices reopen, including requiring visitors to wear facial coverings when entering buildings, providing hand sanitizer at entry points, and limiting early visitor arrival to no more than 15 minutes before a scheduled appointment. The agency asks that applicants not attend scheduled interviews if they are ill, but rather reschedule appointments per the instructions on the appointment notice. Applicants will not be penalized for rescheduling an appointment due to illness.

 

USCIS specified the following plans:

 

USCIS will send notices to applicants with previously scheduled appointments and interviews, and will automatically reschedule necessary Application Support Center appointments that were canceled by issuing a new appointment letter in the mail. This includes biometrics appointments and interviews for Adjustment of Status.

 

The agency will reschedule postponed naturalization ceremonies. Naturalization ceremonies will be shortened to limit exposure and visitors permitted to attend ceremonies will be limited.

 

Asylum interviews that were canceled due to temporary office closure will be rescheduled and will be video-facilitated to maintain social distancing.

 

If you have any questions about the status of your canceled interview or appointment, please contact your Graham Adair representative.

275,000 H-1B Cap Cases Registered

On April 1, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it had received?approximately 275,000 submissions for H-1B applications in the electronic lottery that was conducted at the end of March.? They reported that 46% of applications?were for individuals who hold advanced U.S. degrees. This was an increase of approximately 74,000 cases over the number that was received?last year in the H-1B cap.

 

In total numbers, this means that beneficiaries had less than a 31% chance of selection. Cases filed under the advanced U.S. degree cap had a higher chance, although we don’t know the total number of these applicants so we cannot say for sure what the likelihood of success was. We estimate that the chances of selection for cases filed under the advanced U.S. degree cap was somewhere between 40% and 50%.

 

It seems that the lower cost threshold of $10 per registration lowered the barrier to entry enough to result in a surge of submissions.

 

Registrations that have not been selected will be held in reserve. Between March 31, 2020 and Oct. 1, 2020, in the event that USCIS needs to select registrations from the reserve to meet the H-1B regular cap and the advanced U.S. degree cap, it may select from registrations held in the reserve to meet such allocations.

 

Graham Adair will be checking unselected cases regularly until USCIS sends out rejection notices. If you have any questions, please contact your Graham Adair representative.

USCIS Suspends Premium Processing Due to COVID-19

Effective March 20, 2020, USCIS cited staffing concerns due to COVID-19 in announcing it will temporarily suspend premium processing for all Form I-129 and I-140 petitions until further notice. The suspension applies to the following categories:

 

  • I-129: E-1, E-2, H-1B, H-2B, H-3, L-1A, L-1B, LZ, O-1, O-2, P-1, P-1S, P-2, P-2S, P-3, P-3S, Q-1, R-1, TN-1 and TN-2.

 

  • I-140: EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3.

 

Premium processing will remain suspended for all FY 2021 H-1B cap petitions.

 

USCIS will process any previously accepted premium processing (Form I-907) requests, but will not be able to send notices using pre-paid envelopes. Petitioners who have filed Form I-129 or Form I-140 via premium processing but have not received any agency action within the 15-calendar-day period will receive a refund.

 

Premium processing requests that were mailed before March 20, 2020, but accepted after this date, will be rejected. USCIS will send an announcement once premium processing is available.

 

If you have any questions, please contact your Graham Adair representative.

USCIS Implements New H-1B Registration Requirement

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on Friday that it had completed a pilot program to test its new H-1B registration system. We previously reported, that USCIS has been pushing to implement this new process for the upcoming H-1B lottery season. Because of the new technology and potential for issues, USCIS had decided to not implement the registration requirement for the H-1B cap that was run earlier this year. However, USCIS determined that the testing phase was sufficiently successful for implementation in the upcoming FY2021 H-1B cap.

 

Therefore, companies seeking to file H-1B petitions in this year?s H-1B lottery must first pay the required fee and provide basic company information, as well as information about each beneficiary to be included in the electronic lottery.

 

The registration process will go from March 1 through March 20. The lottery selection process will then be run on those electronic registrations. Only those with selected registrations will be eligible to file H-1B cap-subject petitions. USCIS plans to continue running a separate lottery for those with advanced U.S. degrees as part of this registration system.

 

There are still many uncertainties with how this system will work, including the impact it will have on those individuals who need ?cap-gap? coverage to continue working. Graham Adair will be reviewing the potential H-1B cases for our clients and providing specific advice on H-1B cap strategy for this coming fiscal year.

 

In the coming days, USCIS will post additional instructions along with key dates. We will continue to provide updates as they become available. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact your Graham Adair representative. For more frequent updates, please follow us on Twitter (@GrahamAdairLaw).

 

Plan to Terminate H-4 Work Permit Program Delayed, DHS Seeks to Put Lawsuit on Hold

A memo from the U.S. Department of Justice, dated 9/16/19, has indicated that anticipated changes to the visa program which has allowed H-4 visa holder spouses of H-1B workers to obtain Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) will not be issued until the spring of 2020 at the earliest. The plan to eliminate the work authorization for H1-B spouses was formally introduced in February of 2019, with a proposed rule from USCIS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “Removing H-4 Dependent Spouses from the Class of Aliens Eligible for Employment Authorization.? The new regulations, currently under federal review, were initially expected to be published this year.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is?currently hearing a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the H-4 EAD rule. The suit was filed by anti-immigration group Save Jobs USA, arguing that the DHS had no authority to issue the initial H-4 EAD rule, which was introduced in 2015. DHS lawyers maintain that the suit should be put on hold due to the ongoing efforts by the administration to?rescind the program. According to the?memo??…DHS?s intention to proceed with publication of the H-4 EAD proposed rule remains unchanged. At this point, DHS has informed counsel that it believes the earliest possible publication date for that rule would be in spring 2020. Although that timeframe is aspirational, DHS believes that the September 27, 2019 oral argument should be removed from the calendar and postponed??

We will continue to monitor developments and share updates as more information becomes available.?If you have any questions, please feel free to contact your Graham Adair representative. For more frequent updates,?please follow us on?Twitter?(@GrahamAdairLaw).

 

USCIS Proposes New Rule on H-1B Registration Fee Requirement

On Wednesday September 4, 2019, USCIS published a?proposed rule?in the Federal Register that would require payment of a $10 fee from all petitioners filing a H-1B cap-subject petition. The rule would apply to each?registration submitted for the selection process, and is expected to be applicable to 2021 fiscal year cap filings. The 30-day public comment period is now open, with comments due 10/4/19 via mail or the Federal eRulemaking?Portal:?www.regulations.gov.

The new fee, which was excluded from the original January 2019?final rule?that introduced the new online registration requirement, is expected to result in a marginal increase in costs for selected selected petitioners, and a?cost savings for both unselected petitioners and the government. This is one in a series of steps toward implementing the new electronic registration system for H-1B filing. Details remain to be released about the new process,?which will be in place for the April 2020 H-1B filing season.

We will continue to monitor developments and share updates as more information becomes available.?If you have any questions, please feel free to contact your Graham Adair representative. For more frequent updates,?please follow us on?Twitter?(@GrahamAdairLaw).

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